I got a crash course in project management this weekend from a real, live management consultant so I decided to have a focus group workshop. It worked really well and I’m happier about where the project is heading now. We’re having a project braai this Friday. FUN!
Afterwards, my dad picked me up and we went to Hout Bay for snoek and chips, a tourist must-do in Cape Town. Hout bay is a very funny place, I have to say. On the one side, you have this stunning scenery, some of the most beautiful stretches I have laid eyes on. There are mansions covering the North-west slopes of the bay, and I don’t want know the average price of a home there. You have this gorgeous little bay, right, and its full of Europeans.
But then on the other side of the mountain, just behind all this lavishness you have Imizamo Yethu and Heinberg informal settlements. Heinberg is a predominantly coloured township whose community has suffered endlessly as a result of commercial fishing companies gaining exclusive rights to fish in Hout Bay, crippling the economic core of this once-thriving community. Imizamo Yethu (IY) is populated mainly by black Africans, many of which are immigrants. Last year I had the opportunity to visit IY. I walked through its narrow streets and pathways in the dead of winter, in the rain, with a woman who lives there. This was a turning point in my life. She led us up the road, past where the tar ended and the dirty, washed-away, irregular pathways began. The shacks were so close together that there was hardly any place to walk between them. Nothing grew. I saw a few toilets and had a look into one of them. It was broken and full of human waste. These communal toilets were all that the residents of this township had in terms of sanitation. Can you imagine living without a flush toilet in your home?
One of my tour-guide’s neighbors had a municipal electricity box above his shack, and she had a live cable, running from his shack to hers for energy to cook and heat water. A common sight in informal settlements are the networks of electricity cables radiating from street poles. In IY, they were low enough for a child to reach, and the crude joints had no insulation. It follows that fire outbreaks are also a very common occurrence in townships, which isn’t helped by the fact that shack building-material burns like tinder, spreading the fire so fast that there is little anyone can do to stop it.
IY is a particularly sad place, since the segregation of the community means that there is no sense of working together, sharing or helping one’s neighbor. Rape, theft or worse atrocities are daily occurrences. Joe Slovo township, for example, is a very cohesive community, willing to uplift themselves in the spirit of Ubuntu. This, and the harsh, sloping terrain of IY are some of the reasons that initiatives are more likely to implemented elsewhere.
I could go on and on about the countless problems faced by people daily in IY and other townships, but the reality is that there is not much that I can do. South Africa currently has the highest Gini coefficient in the world (inequality rate between rich and poor). Currently, there are roughly 2 million households living in informal settlements and ‘the South African government is to overcome this housing backlog by 2014; but doubling the budget will only achieve this by 2030’ (Mistro and Hensher, 2009).
The problems faced daily in informal settlements is a serious and ongoing one, and only by widespread awareness of the situation, and an acceptance of responsibility by every citizen, will any major change be realized. I think it’s time for South Africans to stop sitting back and waiting for government to provide. There is so much each one of us can do by sacrificing so little of our lives.
If we each did just a little more, gave just a little more, maybe then the colours of The Rainbow Nation would finally begin to blend, breaking free from their perfectly clean individual stripes and flowing as one united stream. Maybe then could we finally learn Ubuntu, understand it and truly embrace it.